January 28, 2023

Maximum Security powers to Florida Derby victory, Kentucky Derby berth

Maximum Security scores in the Florida Derby (c) Coglianese Photography/ Leslie Martin

by Teresa Genaro

If you’re into chaos, this Kentucky Derby (G1) prep season is right up your alley.

Following longshot wins in the Holy Bull (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2), the head-scratching, shoulder-shrugging and ticket-ripping continued in the Florida Derby (G1) on Saturday, when Maximum Security sprung the mild upset in a major romp that ended with him 3 1/2 lengths in front under jockey Luis Saez, who is in the running to win the Gulfstream Park winter meet riding title.

Maximum Security made his stakes debut after beginning his career three months ago in a $16,000 maiden claimer at the south Florida track, winning by 9 3/4 lengths.

“I didn’t think he’d get claimed,” trainer Jason Servis said. “He’s a homebred, and I had the bug (apprentice Romero Maragh) on him. If I’m claiming a horse – and I claim a lot of horses – he wasn’t attractive. It’s not like he was a $100,000 yearling.”

Servis also said that the son of New Year’s Day “had some stuff I’d rather not get into.”

After winning at 6 1/2 furlongs, Servis cut the bay colt back to six furlongs, in a starter optional claimer that he won by 6 1/2 lengths.

That’s when the trainer began to think big, when Romero told him, “I think you’ve got a stakes horse here.”

Still, Servis didn’t rush the lightly-raced colt, opting for another starter optional claimer, this one at seven furlongs.

Maximum Security won by 18 lengths a little over a month ago.

Now undefeated in four races, the Kentucky-bred bay is a Grade 1 winner, his winnings boosted significantly by his share of the $1 million Florida Derby purse.

While Servis was confident that his horse would get the distance – “I mean, God, he won by whatever he won by last time, and he ran fast. And with his pedigree, I thought he’d get the distance” – he wasn’t at all sure that his horse would win, saying in a TV interview early in the day that he “didn’t know what to expect.”

“He’s been beating up on lesser horses,” Servis said after the race. “If he’d have run sixth, would I have been surprised? No.”

Maximum Security is owned and bred by Gary and Mary West, who sold his dam, the Anasheed mare Lil Indy, at last year’s Keeneland November sale of breeding stock in foal with a full brother to the Florida Derby winner for $11,000.

The 100 points Maximum Security earned toward the Kentucky Derby lands him in a tie with Louisiana Derby surprise winner By My Standards. He went off at 9-2, paying $11.60, on Saturday, and now sits in third on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard with By My Standards filling the second spot and UAE Derby (G2) hero Plus Que Parfait residing in the number one slot with 104 points.

Bodexpress ran second, earning 40 points, followed by Code of Honor (20 points, for a total of 74) and Bourbon War (10 points, for a total of 31). Hidden Scroll, the 9-5 favorite, ran sixth.

While setting the pace isn’t generally a winning strategy in the Derby, Saez said he thought the horse could be “in any spot.” He got away with slow fractions of :24.42, :48.98, and 1:12.90, an unlikely scenario on the first Saturday in May.

With three more qualifying races next weekend – the Wood Memorial (G2), Blue Grass Stakes (G2) and Santa Anita Derby (G1) – the Kentucky Derby picture is far from settled. The race’s favorite has won every year since the points system was instituted, and each year a favorite has emerged through the qualifying races.

Not so this year, not yet. Will the road to Louisville revert to form, with more traditional and expected winners next week? If the past is any indication, that seems pretty much like a longshot.